Isaac Chilemba: The Malawian punch


BOXING is certainly not up there with football in terms of popularity in Malawi, but it has surely done enough to put Malawi on the world map. There may not have been as many great fighters to win international titles for the victorystarved nation but the likes of Drake Thadzi and Chikoya Mphande proved that Malawi can make it big in the game.

This meant that boxers following in the two’s footsteps needed no further motivation to achieve their desired goals on the international scene. One of such fighters was a young Mbayani-based boy, known as Isaac Chilemba, who used to frequent Blantyre Youth Centre. It was while at the sports hotspot in the commercial city that he met Anderson Kazembe, a reputable local boxing coach, who told him that he could make a good boxer.

Chilemba believed him and began to attend training sessions that saw him turning into a fearsome fighter. After finding his feet through facing different boxers locally, Chilemba moved to South Africa where his career took off in earnest.


Man for the big stage

Born to a Malawian father and a South African mother on May 17 1987, Chilemba took the world by storm when he won and held the IBO super-middleweight title from 2010 to 2011, and challenged for the WBA (Undisputed), IBF, and WBO light-heavyweight titles in 2016.

This came after the boxer made his professional debut in Gauteng, South Africa on 19 October 2005 defeating Thamsanga Tindleni in the second round of a four-round contest. He compiled a run of eight successive victories before dropping a points decision to Willbeforce Shihepo on 5 July 2007 at the Emperor’s Palace in Gauteng.


The reverse to Shihepo was immediately rectified in his next fight, again in Gauteng, on 21 November 2007 defeating Shihepo on points over six rounds. Two more fights followed in 2008 resulting in wins over David Basajjamivule and Chamunorowa Gonorenda before Chilemba got the opportunity to fight for the African Boxing Unions super middleweight championship on 13 September 2008.

The fight for the title once again took place at the Emperor’s Palace and pitched Chilemba against the experienced former Commonwealth champion Charles Adamu with Chilemba winning the fight with a 12 round decision to lift the title.

The road to success

In his next fight, Chilemba stepped up to light heavyweight and challenged former victim David Basajjamivule for the WBO The Malawian punch version of the light heavyweight title.

The fight at the Graceland Casino in Mpumalanga took place on 13 June 2009 and resulted in a second victory over the Ugandan. Chilemba followed this up on 31 October 2009 with another title win, this time defeating French-based Congolese fighter Doudou Ngumba to lift the African Boxing Union’s light heavyweight version as well as the WBC International title.

A first defence of the WBC title was due to have been made on 26 March 2010 with the Malawian travelling to England to meet former British champion Tony Oakey on a Ricky Hatton promoted bill. The fight, however, never materialised after Oakey lost an English title fight to fellow countryman Danny McIntosh.

Following Oakey, the next opponent lined up for Chilemba was to be Rupert van Aswegen but he then chose to retire from the sport altogether leaving the Malawian once again without an opponent.

Return to super middleweight category

Following the pullout, Chilemba moved back down at super middleweight for the chance to fight undefeated Australian, Michael Bolling, on 19 June 2010 for the vacant IBO world title.

The fight at the Emperor’s Palace, resulted in another win for the Malawian and was his fourth title fight in a row in which a different title had been on the line. Chilemba made the first defence of his IBO belt on 6 November 2010 returning to the Emperors Palace and retaining with a gruelling draw against touted South African Thomas Oosthuizen despite being the underdog going into the fight. On 25 February 2011, Chilemba travelled to Tulsa, Oklahoma to fight in the United States for the first time.

His opponent, the unbeaten Russian Maxim Vlasov had won all 19 of his previous fights and managed to knock Chilemba down twice in the 8th round. Despite this the Malawian was able to win the fight over the 10 round distance. Chilemba returned to South Africa for his next fight against Namibian boxer Vikapita Meroro and retained the WBC International light heavyweight title on 26 March 2011 with a unanimous points win.

Broken hand

In November last year, Chilemba was forced to retire in his bout against Ukrainian Oleksandr Gvozdyk at the end of the eighth round of their light heavyweight bout. Chilemba threw plenty but never really tested the Ukranian’s chin and although he did not win every round, he looked like he was ready to increase the pace only for the surprise finish coming at the end of the eighth.

Chilemba went to his corner and head down told trainer Roy Jones Jr he had had enough, leaving Gvozdyk’s unbeaten record intact. It was the first time he had failed to go the distance after a fracture on his right hand was later confirmed. This was after the Malawian had done well enough to last the entire twelve rounds of a bout against Sergey Kovalev of Russia five months earlier.

Before meeting Kovalev, Chilemba had drawn, and then lost to Tony Bellew.  He is yet to return to the ring after recovering from the injury.


Additional reporting by Ronald Mpaso

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